Despite recent years seeing rafts of layoffs, 80% of organisations say they’re struggling to find skilled talent – up from 35% in 2019. This shortage of people means most business leaders are constantly looking for smarter ways to find, recruit, and retain great individuals.
As part of our series on practical business leadership advice for 2024, we’ve put together four steps you can take this year, to make your organisation more effective in its recruitment and retention, and to tackle another common issue: lack of diversity in the team
1. Be crystal-clear on your purpose
Whether your organisation is seeking to address social injustices, tackle climate change, or save and improve lives, you can use your underlying purpose to attract and retain talent that’s going to drive success.
Being clear in your external messaging about what you do, and why, will draw in those who believe in the same cause. They’ll be encouraged to join you because they genuinely want to make a difference, rather than simply seeing it as a job.
And by integrating that purpose into everything you do internally too, it will serve as a motivator that helps retain those great people. The story of the NASA cleaner who told President Kennedy that his role at the space agency was helping put people on the moon, is a prime example of an employee engaging with the organisation’s purpose.
So for 2024, define your purpose, if you haven’t already. Make sure it’s coming across in your external comms, such as your recruitment material, website, social media channels, and in the way people talk about what you do. Rather than saying, “We’re a bespoke software development company,” they could say, “We build software that helps organisations have a positive societal or environmental impact.”
In parallel, look internally. Is everyone in your business as aligned to your purpose as the cleaner at NASA?
2. Widen your recruitment pool
Among business leaders, it’s now widely understood that more diverse organisations perform better. (For more on this, the latest report in McKinsey’s series on diversity, is a worthwhile read.)
The challenge for business leaders is that increasing diversity is hard, and lots of factors will impact the diversity of your applicants. For the first part of 2024, focus on one in particular: reaching underrepresented groups. Because even if you’ve got your diversity and inclusion messaging spot-on, you can’t simply hope that people from historically underrepresented groups will find you. You need to go and find them.
Identify the underrepresented groups you want to attract. Then find out about the physical and virtual spaces they spend time in, so you can start building your organisation’s profile there. This could be using a wider range of job boards, such as those aimed at working mums, career returners, or black and minority-ethnic (BAME) people. It could also involve going into schools to speak directly to potential applicants for your apprenticeship programme, or building a presence on emerging social media channels or in metaverses where your target employees spend their time.
3. Re-assess your job adverts
Reaching the underrepresented groups is only part of the challenge, of course. We touched on messaging earlier, and this is crucial if you’re to coax people into applying for your roles once they discover them.
For example, a commonly cited statistic is that women will only apply for a role if they meet 100% of the qualifications. Are all those items in your ad’s ‘essential skills’ really essential?
Similarly, ‘male-coded’ words, such as ‘ambitious’ or ‘confident’ can create a sense of a competitive, unforgiving, uncompassionate workplace, which again may put women off applying.
Another area to consider is whether your language inadvertently discourages older people. Saying you’re looking for someone who’s ‘enthusiastic’, or likes to ‘work hard, play hard’, implies you’re looking for younger applicants.
To learn more, Inclusive Companies’ article on how to write an inclusive job description is a good place to start, while CIPD has an extensive guide on inclusive recruitment. I’d also recommend running your adverts through the Gender Decoder, to pick out subtle bias in your recruitment language.
4. Work to develop a more inclusive culture
The fourth area to address is the culture people will find once they join you. By making it truly welcoming to individuals from all backgrounds, you’ll provide an environment in which they choose to stick around and develop into their best selves.
Workplace culture is a huge and multi-faceted topic, and one we’ll be discussing more on the Ghyston blog during 2024. But as a starting point, what practical steps can you take over the next few months to improve where you are?
Begin by asking your people what’s working well, and what could be done better. Doing this anonymously may elicit more honest answers.
Areas to assess include your working arrangements. Are they inclusive of people from different backgrounds, and at different stages of life, such as those with parenting or caring responsibilities?
When people ask for flexible hours, or to work fewer than five days a week, is the default position to strive to accommodate it? And do those in senior roles lead by example? At Ghyston, for instance, everyone on our senior leadership team works fewer than five days a week, which shows we actually live by our flexible working policy. (We’re also trying to move away from the term ‘part-time’ when talking about this, and instead normalise the notion of different people working different numbers of days per week, as opposed to having ‘full-time’ and ‘part-time’ employees.)
Other areas to look at are workplace benefits and social events. The elected team that organises our socials at Ghyston monitors event inclusivity and attendance. We’ve seen a notable uptick in the number of people taking part as we’ve added a greater variety, including a book club, cooking lessons, and theatre trips.
Watch this space for more insights on workplace culture
As the founder and CEO of a business where people are so key to our success, I’m constantly looking for ways we can recruit more diversely, and create a culture where people from all backgrounds feel welcome. We’ll be sharing some of the things we’re doing and the lessons we’ve learnt over the coming months, as we all seek to navigate our way through the current talent shortage.
I’m always keen to chat to other business leaders to share ideas on these topics too – feel free to contact me if you’d like to set something up.